Joel Grace has moved around some in the last few years, from Alabama to West Hall High School in Oakwood, and now finds himself at the Lanier College & Career Academy with a clear goal in mind.
“I don’t want to be struggling to get through,” said Grace, 17, adding that he grew up in poverty.
He also carries an attitude that ought to serve him well as an adult.
“I love work, too,” Grace said. “Work don’t bother me.”
Grace is one of about 60 students enrolled in a new agriculture mechanics program at the academy, studying topics like welding, electrical wiring and engine repair — anything that will make him the tradesman he wants to be.
Students in the program that launched this fall benefit from the unique partnerships with local businesses.
“Our vision is to help our students become job ready,” LCCA Principal David Moody said.
That means preparing students with hands-on skills training and connecting them with job opportunities.
Moody said the academy, which is part of the Hall County School District, partners with about 20 local businesses at varying levels, such as Kubota Manufacturing and Performance Foodservice, as well as Lanier Technical College for dual-enrollment courses.
“It’s an opportunity to plug in,” Moody said. “From a business side, we have industry that needs viable workers.”
Mitch Davis, the program instructor, said it gives students whose career paths do not include attending traditional liberal arts colleges a chance to find their passion in the trades and develop a real-world connection with what they’re learning.
And it can prove to local employers that these students are career-ready.
“They’re not going to come back to us if we do a terrible job,” Davis said.
This mission matches nicely with the needs of Mike Quisenberry, owner of Lanier Carts & Outdoor.
Students in LCCA’s agriculture mechanics program are partnering with Quisenberry to build custom EZGO golf carts for the community and Hall County Schools resource officers and security employees.
Lanier Carts has provided a cart to Cherokee Bluff High School, and LCCA has just completed a custom build for North Hall Middle School.
Quisenberry said there is a lot of upside for him, from the “day-to-day to the big picture.”
They are “students that showed a lot of interest in the activity here at the school,” Quisenberry said. “For me, it’s a good way for us to find someone who’s interested in what we’re doing.”
In addition to receiving assistance with repairs and manufacturing, he also employs two students from the program, including Matthew Simmons.
Simmons, 17, was attending East Hall High before transferring to LCCA.
Now, he’s been working at Lanier Carts for about six months, earning a paycheck as he prepares to graduate next spring.
I’ve always been interested in working with my hands,” Simmons said, adding that he plans to enroll in a mechanics program at a university in northern Ohio after graduation.
“When I get the chance to go into a classroom and not just sit at a desk … I have more focus, it’s more interactive, and then I can give back to community,” Simmons said.
That’s a feeling Grace said he shared, and when he graduates next year he’s confident he’ll be primed for any challenge.
“I’ll be prepared for anything that’s thrown at me,” he said.